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Whitewashing black lies


While the government spins its ‘facts’ and spews out numbers to convey the ‘gargantuan benefits’ of foreign and large-scale mining, it fails to accurately reveal the social and economic costs of such an extractive, foreign-capital dependent and export-oriented industry.

The fallacy of economic growth bannered by the government is greatly disputed by various studies by cause oriented groups, scientists and experts who speak based on mere principles of truth, transparency and for a hope to reverse the worsening climate and environmental crisis wrought by such a mining policy, such as the Philippine Mining Act of 1995, which by all means and indicators serves only foreign and corporate interests/greed.

So let’s face facts with facts: The average GDP contribution of the mining industry from 2000-2009 was a meagre 0.91% while poverty incidence increased from 46% in 2002 to 49% in 2007 (government data). IBON studies show large-scale mining only contributed 6% to national income compared to the 30% input from agriculture and fisheries.

Economically speaking, the 2% royalty tax and excise taxes paid by foreign mining companies will not even compensate for the environmental damages caused by their usually open-pit and large-scale operations, no matter how ‘responsible’ it may be allegedly done.

University of the Philippines Professor Arturo Boquiren said that with a yearly revenue of P 6.9 billion due to large-scale mining, the net social or economic loss for the country can be as much as P92.7 billion yearly. Based on 2007 data, this could reach to as much as P1.16 trillion of loss in biodiversity and resources if, for instance, all the Benguet metals are extracted in one scoop.

And note, these extracted minerals from the country are 80 to 85% exported. These could have been used instead for forging heavy steel industries in the Philippines and thus pave the way for industrialization. But why was this not an option? Because the current mining industry is about extraction for foreign profit.

While President Aquino was adamant that large-scale and foreign mining is ‘safer,’ and easier to regulate, the MGB also admitted that large-scale mining used explosives and toxic chemicals such as mercury amalgamate for mineral extraction and processing -- methods that are, without question, detrimental to ecological biodiversity.

Foreign and large-scale mining claims to create jobs. Apex Mines in Maco, Compostela Valley, a large-scale and mostly foreign-owned company which earns up to P12 Billion annually, employs a mere 200 workers.
Independent economist Maita Gomez of Bantay Kita revealed the mining industry employed 0.376% of the working population from 2000-2009, and this figure is composed largely of small-scale miners (SSM).

And while the government declares ‘illegal’ SSM remit fewer taxes to the government, the SSM community begs to differ.
The Cordillera Peoples’ Alliance (CPA) studies show that small-scale mining remits 54-59% of gold reserves per annum, while foreign and large-scale mining remits only 41-46% to Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) The Diwalwal SSM enclave produces 25% of the country’s gold according to BSP. SSM federations in Pantukan with a constituency of more than 10,000 small miners pay taxes annually to the local government for every tunnel, ball mill, and plant that they put up. Their small-scale operations generate jobs for more than a hundred motor cycle drivers, and hundreds of small to medium entrepreneurs, giving significant revenue to the town of Pantukan.

Foreign mining companies include a ‘community development program’ in an effort to conceal the immense disadvantages of their operations, which ironically go hand in hand with the mining militias which the Aquino government has publicly announced in loyalty to the foreign dominated mining sector. For community locals, paramilitary groups and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) are not the harbingers of peace and development – is the spitting image of state repression as they oppose mining plunder and it woes.

These mining giants intend to squeeze out every ounce of mineral found in our mountains, and they intend to do it using quickest possible means, through the open-pit mining method, which entails massive environmental destruction. In addition, these companies subject their workers to abysmal wages, and deprive them of benefits and hazard pay.

In suma total, the economic contribution of large-scale mining has been insignificant for the past decade, while its continued operations render measly gains and colossal losses.

Noynoy Aquino pompously declares GDP growth and the reduction of foreign debt due to mining. Yet, these are markers which measure neither the quality of living of most Filipinos who live on less than P100 a day, nor the devaluation of the Philippine peso vis-a-vis the chronic crisis of the country’s economy.

The current raging controversy on mining is a significant sign of genuine progress. More Filipinos are once more engaged in the fight against foreign exploitation in the widespread quest for a sustainable future that must usher in genuine land reform and national industrialization. (The author is with the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan.

by Sheena Suazo

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